When Donuts and ICANN signed a new gTLD contract for .游戏, on a stage in front of hundreds of people at ICANN 47 this morning, it made a mockery of the relationship between ICANN and the GAC.
游戏 is the Chinese for “game” or “games”. It was an uncontested application with no objections and, importantly, no Governmental Advisory Committee advice standing in its way.
Donuts got lucky. The six companies that have applied for .game or .games in English are all currently prohibited from entering into contract negotiations with ICANN because they did receive GAC advice.
When the GAC drafted its “Advice on New gTLDs” in Beijing three months ago, it included a long but “non-exhaustive” set of strings that it said needed extra “safeguards” on security and community support.
ICANN has called these strings the “Category 1” list. It’s already been the subject of some strong discussion with the GAC at the meeting in Durban, which kicked off over the weekend.
So was it the GAC’s intention with Category 1 to introduce a language bias into the new gTLD program? Did it intend to give Chinese-script strings special privileges over ASCII-based languages?
If there was a sensible rationale for including .game/.games on the Category 1 list, why didn’t it apply to .游戏?
Or did the GAC simply not give its Beijing advice the care and attention it deserved?
Based on sessions in Durban over the weekend, the latter explanation appears to be closer to the truth.
“Vague and unimplementable”
At session between the GAC and ICANN’s board-level New gTLD Program Committee yesterday, the GAC heard in the strongest terms (within the bounds of polite discourse) how silly its Beijing advice was.
The session kicked off with NGPC member Chris Disspain delivering a witheringly but necessarily blunt assessment of the “Category 1” list and the associated safeguards.
He first noted that ICANN already rejected the GAC’s advice to make certain strings mandatory “community” gTLDs — something that would have had the same effect as the Beijing advice — back in 2011.
The GAC Early Warning system was introduced instead, he said, to give governments the ability to work with or object to applicants for specific strings that they were worried about.
Disspain continued with a catalog of criticisms against the Category 1 advice:
The difficulties we see at the moment are that the categories of strings are broad and undefined. There’s no principled basis for distinguishing certain categories and strings.
Generic terms are in the same category as highly regulated industries. Some strings have segments that are both licensed and unlicensed.
It’s difficult to determine relevant regulatory agencies and self-regulatory organizations. Some strings refer to industries that may be sensitive or regulated in a single or a few jurisdictions only.
The safeguard advice items three to eight create obligations that are vague and unimplementable.
And these are the outcomes that we sought to avoid when we rejected the advice in the first place. And we agreed to put in place the Early Warning system so that governments could deal directly with applicants if they had issues with the string.
He received some push-back from GAC members, some of whom — insisting that the Beijing communique was well-considered and easily understood — appear to be in denial.
“In the end, you should come with us, trying to implement,” the member for Italy said. “Because I’m sure that you well understood the meaning of this Annex 1.”
In response, Disspain reiterated that the NGPC really doesn’t understand what the GAC wants and really doesn’t understand how it came up with the Category 1 list in the first place.
“We’re unclear how we could implement at all some pieces of the advice,” he said. “The issue for us is not so much that there could be other names that could be added to the list but rather there are names that appear on the list that we don’t understand why they’re there in the first place.”
Impasse thus reached, much of the discussion during the hour-long session focused on ways to potentially move the process forward, with participants acknowledging they’re in “uncharted territory”.
Switzerland suggested — contrary to what is plainly spelled out in the Applicant Guidebook, which asks the GAC to comment on specific applications — that the GAC didn’t think that its job was to come up with a definitive list of worrying strings. He said:
Initially, we did not think that it’s the task of the GAC to put together a finite list of sensitive strings, but we have been informed that it would be helpful to come up with concrete names.
So don’t take this list as a list that has been worked out over months and years and every TLD has been tested. These are examples, as we identified it in a rather short time.
There might be a few names that are not on the list that you could easily also add. There are some inconsistencies in that sense. But this is not meant to be a finite, absolute list.
The UK rep said he was disappointed with the “negative” tone of the NGPC’s response to the safeguard advice, but also suggested that the next step might be to come up with a proper list of strings.
“I think the next step forward is for the committee to try and prepare a first draft list for consultation with the whole community,” he said. “And we, the governments, we could obviously seize the opportunity to contribute to that consultation.”
The European Commission provided a statement that its representative said represented the views of EU states on the GAC. The statement said that the Beijing list should be an “at-minimum” list.
European GAC members consider the role of the GAC in this discussion is to provide high-level clarifications regarding the Beijing GAC advice rather than precise implementation means.
We would also like to note that the list of sensitive strings provided in the Beijing communique is a non-exhaustive one… meaning the list should be considered an at-minimum list.
What does this all mean for applicants?
Based on yesterday’s hour-long discussion, ICANN can surely be no closer to understanding which applications are affected by the GAC advice and presumably still doesn’t have a clue what some of it means.
This afternoon, during another session in Durban, program manager Christine Willett said that ICANN is using the Category 1 list published in Beijing when deciding which applicants can be contracted with.
“The NGPC is still considering the Category 1 advice and we have no direction or indication from them yet that a definitive list will be created,” she said.
I can’t see it being resolved this week, and inter-sessional meetings are very rare, so we could now be looking at Buenos Aires — November — before any of this gets sorted out.
For applicants who were — it now seems — selected at random to appear on the Beijing list, they’re facing months more delay while applicants that were not included are free to sign registry contracts today.
Is this fair?
Is it fair to allow applicants that were inexplicably excluded from the GAC’s Beijing list to go ahead and contract with ICANN, while others that were inexplicably included are delayed by many more months?
Is it fair that some applications will get bumped up the queue to delegation just because the GAC didn’t spend enough time thinking about its task?
How can ICANN be certain at contracting that any application is free of GAC advice, when the GAC has made it clear that it expects its list of strings to grow?
I asked ICANN CEO Fadi Chehade some of these questions during a press conference this afternoon and he pointed out that there are mechanisms in place in the Registry Agreement to allow future GAC advice to be addressed.
If it indeed the case that Donuts, for example, might have to add some safeguard commitments to its already signed .游戏 contract, why prevent the .game and .games applicants from signing contracts too?
Wouldn’t it be fairer to delay all new gTLD applications, or none at all, rather than relying on a list of strings we now know definitively to be ad hoc and unreliable?